The NFL season is set to kick off in less than a month, and that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite mid-August holiday: fantasy football draft day.
Whether you’re in a casual family or work league or a cut throat one with cash prize, trophy and lifelong bragging rights on the line, every fantasy team’s end goal is success, and every successful fantasy football season begins with the draft. As you prepare for yours, here are a few players to go after ahead of their average draft position as well as a few to avoid if you plan on taking home the hardware in December.
Players to target
Aaron Jones — RB — Green Bay Packers
Pop quiz time: Who is the only running back to finish top two in yards per carry in each of the last two seasons? It’s not Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott or any of the other 16 backs being drafted ahead of Jones — whose 5.5 YPC in each of the last two seasons trailed only Kamara in 2017 and led all rushers in 2018.
Jones is also an underrated and improving receiver, having caught at least three passes in all of the last five games he played last year. Really the only mark against drafting Jones is his history of under utilization, an argument that doesn’t carry much weight considering Green Bay’s completely overhauled coaching staff. Jones’ talent should lead to better usage under brand new head coach Matt LaFleur, and you should capitalize.
Jones is currently being drafted in the middle of the third round in 12-team leagues, but I would feel comfortable taking him in the back end of the second, above players such as Leonard Fournette and Kerryon Johnson.
Chris Carson — RB — Seattle Seahawks
Players who finish a season strong often garner extra fantasy football attention the following year, and rightfully so. It makes sense to target athletes who seemed to be on the rise the last time we saw them. Nobody fits the bill in that regard as much as Carson.
In each of the final four games of last season, Carson notched at least 20 touches, at least 90 yards and at least one touchdown. His biggest detractors would point to Rashaad Penny — a first round pick from 2018 — likely taking on a bigger role. But those skeptics typically don’t account for the fact that Mike Davis, who carried the ball over 100 times for the Seahawks last season, is now with the Bears, opening up the opportunity for both Carson and Penny to earn more playing time.
Right now Carson is going in the mid to early fourth round, but I wouldn’t mind targeting him virtually anywhere in the third.
Allen Robinson — WR — Chicago Bears
Speaking of strong finishes, Robinson played his second-best game of 2018 in his last regular season appearance and then followed that up with a 10-catch, 143-yard outburst in Chicago’s lone playoff game against the Eagles — his best showing in a Bears uniform. Robinson’s first season in Chicago was largely a disappointment, but there’s reason to believe he’ll improve this year.
2018 was the Bears’ first year under head coach Matt Nagy and the first chance Robinson had to play with quarterback Mitch Trubisky. On top of that, Robinson joined the Bears at the beginning of last year while still rehabbing a torn ACL that caused him to miss all but a few snaps of the 2017 season. With a healthy offseason to develop chemistry with Trubisky, Robinson seems destined to improve, although he isn’t being drafted like it.
He can currently be had in the middle of the seventh round, but I would be open to targeting him in the sixth, over players like Will Fuller, Robby Anderson or Alshon Jeffrey.
Larry Fitzgerald — WR — Arizona Cardinals
Yes, Fitzgerald is old. No, I am not expecting him to perform as well as he did in his younger days when he was a regular first-round fantasy pick. But at an average draft position of pick 100 — below significantly less proven players such as Courtland Sutton, Corey Davis and Christian Kirk — Fitzgerald seems like a no brainer for safe depth.
Arizona ranked dead last in passing offense last season, and Fitzgerald still managed to top 700 yards and catch six touchdowns. With Kliff Kingsbury’s new up-tempo, air raid offense now in place and exciting rookie quarterback Kyler Murray under center, there’s reason to believe the Cardinals will at least improve from a volume perspective, and Fitzgerald should be the beneficiary.
Look for him in the seventh or eighth round as a steady flex option with the upside of finishing top 20 at his position.
Players to avoid
Le’Veon Bell — RB — New York Jets
Don’t get me wrong, I love Bell’s talent, but the situation leaves much to be desired. Last season, the Jets finished 26 out of 32 teams in rushing yards and 29th in yards per rush. The team features a defense that gave up more than 20 points in all but three games in 2018, making running the ball less viable late in games.
The Jets also welcome in perennial underuser of talent in new head coach Adam Gase, fresh off a season of preventing Dolphins starting running back Kenyan Drake from reaching 15 carries in any of the team’s games.
Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but with an average draft position in the middle of the first round, he hardly seems worth the risk. If you have a middling first round pick, opt for a safer, top tier wide receiver like DeAndre Hopkins or Julio Jones, or even a running back like Joe Mixon or Nick Chubb, who both carry fewer question marks than Bell into the season.
Damien Williams — RB — Kansas City Chiefs
Williams burst onto the scene at the end of last season, claiming the starting job for the Chiefs out of nowhere after Kansas City cut Kareem Hunt and leading many fantasy owners to the playoffs with his inspired play. But as a second round pick this year based on average draft position, Williams is a bit too much of a risk for me.
For all the talk of his late season success last year, Williams topped 51 rushing yards only once in 2018. The Chiefs also signed Carlos Hyde this offseason, and Hyde’s size (almost 30 pounds heavier than Williams) and past success on the goal line suggests he could be Kansas City’s go-to back in close, limiting Williams’ touchdown upside. Williams has also already sat out much of Chiefs training camp with a sore hamstring.
Stay away in the second round, and opt for a safer player with higher upside, such as Keenan Allen or TY Hilton.
Amari Cooper — WR — Dallas Cowboys
Every year Amari Cooper somehow finds himself going in the third round of fantasy football drafts, and every year Cooper owners are disappointed by the results. Cooper’s midseason trade to Dallas led to improved numbers in the second half of the season, but he still failed to top 40 yards in four of nine games played with the Cowboys.
At this point, it’s become clear that Cooper is little more than a boom or bust receiver that could win you a week by himself at any time, but could also put up a goose egg when you need him most. I wouldn’t mind taking a risk on this type of player in the fifth round or beyond, but in the third there are plenty of safer options available that still carry league winning upside.
Look for players like Stefon Diggs or Robert Woods in place of Cooper, and you’ll be thanking yourself later in the season when they aren’t causing you headaches like Cooper inevitably will.
Tyler Lockett — WR — Seattle Seahawks
Touchdowns are among football’s most volatile statistics, and Lockett’s success in 2018 was based almost entirely on scoring them. This is a trend that is not likely to continue.
Lockett caught only 57 balls last year, scoring a touchdown on 10 of those receptions, an absurdly efficient rate that he is unlikely to repeat. He topped 100 yards only once in 2018 and never caught more than five balls in a game. That is not the type of player I want to be taking in the fifth round.
Instead, go for a higher upside option like Mike Williams, or a safer one such as Jarvis Landry.